The Cost of Birth Control

I'm a very privileged person in a lot of ways and I've recently come face to face with one of the many advantages of my privilege: the cost of birth control. 

Until about a month ago, I've definitely taken my access to contraception for granted. When I first wanted the Pill at nineteen years old, all I had to do was drive my mom's car down to my family doctor's office and ask for it. When I came time to fill the prescription, it never once crossed my mind that the cost would be prohibitive. 

Partly this is due to my family's financial background, but it's largely due to the fact that, in my country, birth control is very affordable and accessible to people in all kinds of financial circumstances. 

Now that I'm a graduate student and have access to additional medical insurance through my school, the Pill cost me a mere $3.75 per month. But even before I went back to school and had no insurance whatsoever, my Pills have always been under $20 per month and have usually averaged around the $16-$17 mark depending on the brand. 

I never gave this much thought and, like I said, I took it for granted until I learned a little more about the American healthcare system. 

Of course, I've always known that healthcare in the United States isn't subsidized at all like ours but I had no idea how their system also effects the cost of prescription drugs. In my mind, a pill is a pill and should cost the same on both sides of the border. I figured most un-insured Americans were paying similar prices to un-insured Canadians for their prescriptions.

According to a study cited in the Wall Street Journal, US prices were higher for 93% of the top 40 branded drugs compared to Norway, England, and Ontario. (Link here) Because government healthcare systems are the only major drug buyers in Canada and Europe, they have serious negotiating power when it comes to price. US Medicare however, is forbidden by law to negotiate drug prices. Higher drug prices in the United States also mean bigger marketing budgets for the pharmaceutical companies, but Europe doesn't even allow drug companies to participate in consumer advertising. Government controlled pricing keeps the cost low for consumers and without access to consumer advertising, prescription drugs are treated more like medicine and less like an income-generating product.

I did a little more research and found this fact sheet from the Center for American Progress. According to the stats, the Pill in the United States can cost anywhere from $15-$80 per month depending on whether or not you have insurance. That's a lot more than the $3-$17 I pay in Canada. Plus, my doctors visits to get my prescriptions are free as well. According to the same article, surveys have shown that 1 in 4 women with incomes under $75k per year have put off a doctor's visit for birth control to save money and that 29% have used the Pill inconsistently for the same reason. On top of all that, more than half of young adult women say they have not used their birth control as directed because it was too expensive. 

I definitely don't have the answers or the power to fix this problem, but going through this process and doing a bit of research has helped me to better understand the situation. I've always taken my access to contraception for granted and it's been really eye-opening for me to understand how complicated this issue can be, especially when the costs of important medications are so prohibitive.